As ALA Midwinter approaches, we asked some experienced attendees for any advice they would offer to colleagues who may be new to the scene. Here are their suggestions for navigating the exhibit floor in Atlanta and exploring all that Midwinter has to offer.
Supervisor, library media services
Newport News Public Schools
Newport News, Va.
Take care of your feet! Although I travel light, I always pack two to three pairs of shoes so my feet can get a break, and I always, always, always have blister Band-Aids in my wallet!
Life is short: eat in good restaurants, and try things you don’t have at home. When asking the waitstaff for recommendations, a friend of mine would say, with the most charming smile: “I’m from [faraway state]. What should I have if I am never, ever coming back to [this city]?”
Manage your exhibit-hall experience by exploring one or two questions, such as trends in narrative nonfiction or mysteries for young adults, or trends in library security.
Leave your shyness at home. Introduce yourself, and talk to your seatmate on the shuttle bus. Share a table, cab, or Uber. Start conversations; ask what your new acquaintance learned in a session—what was the best idea they heard that day?
Spring Valley Library
Las Vegas, Nev.
Looking for some fun at Midwinter? Get involved! There are many groups in the [ALA] divisions that are always looking for more participation. I have been involved with Social Respon-
sibilities Round Table for many years and all I had to do was say hello and offer my help and they embraced me with open arms. This will probably be your experience in any group you choose to visit.
Many of the divisions and round tables host after-hours events as well, which gives new conference goers the opportunity to network with people from all walks of librarianship. There will be a YALSA Happy Hour, an ASCLA/COSLA Happy Hour, a PLA Happy Hour, an ANSS Social, a RUSA Membership Social, a LITA Happy Hour, and more! All of these can be found in the online scheduler, so find a few that interest you and go meet your peers!
Don’t forget to get involved on the social media front as well. Post about your experiences on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or your choice of sites, and I’m sure you will find many people with shared interests through this avenue as well.
Casa Grande Union High School
Casa Grande, Ariz.
Right away, start following #alamw17 on all your social media sites. It’s the best way to find out the latest updates, as well as connect with others who will be attending. You’ll want to download the ALA Midwinter app as soon as it becomes available. ALA’s Web page also has a wealth of information, including a section for first-timers. Use the program scheduler to plan your conference in advance. Attend not only educational sessions, but social ones as well.
Plan on picking up those free advance reader copies in the exhibit hall, and don’t want the pricey shipping costs associated with getting them back home? Bring along an extra suitcase for the books and swag. Try to be selective, however, as it can get overwhelming—in both cost and weight on your shoulder. There will be FedEx shipping in the convention center, but it’s expensive. For a cheaper alternative, there is a post office in the CNN Tower across the street where you can ship books at media rate for about one-third of the cost of other options.
Don’t forget your name badge! You will not be allowed into meetings without it.
Take advantage of the free shuttles to get back and forth from the convention center. Uber is an economical option for getting around in a hurry, as well as to and from the airport. Atlanta’s public transportation—MARTA—is convenient from the airport, costing only $2.50, and lands close to most downtown hotels.
Want to network with someone at the conference? Make your arrangements before you get to the conference, as once the festivities get going, it’s often difficult to carve out time to make this happen.
A big part of the excitement of Midwinter is the announcement of the various book awards sponsored by ALA. The RUSA Book and Media Awards Ceremony and Reception and the Andrew Carnegie Medals announcements will both be held on Sunday from 5 to 7 p.m. Attend the ALA Youth Media Awards on Monday morning at 9 a.m.; doors open at 7:30. Get in line early though, as it’s fun to race to the front of the room for prime viewing. If you don’t want to fight the crowds, you can always watch a live webcast on ALA’s website.
Enjoy your time at Midwinter; don’t forget to find moments to breathe and have fun. When you get back, share your experiences with your colleagues and bosses. Spread the word about the value of participating in ALA committees and conferences. And sleep? You can always do that when you get home.
Cofounder and editor, EarlyWord
Midwinter is quite different from Annual. Traditionally, Midwinter is a meeting rather than a conference, which means that it is focused on committee meetings and the running of the organization, so there are many fewer educational programs. The major exception is the three-day Symposium on the Future of Libraries.
The good news: that allows more time to roam the show floor. The Exhibit Hall Opening Reception on Friday, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., is a good chance to get a jump on galleys. Several publishers will offer Book Buzz sessions, another great opportunity to get galleys. In addition to the official ALA Book Buzz Theater, many publishers have their own special sessions, e.g., HarperCollins and Penguin Random House. Watch for ads for registration.
There are a lot of great programs that are not official ALA programs—we post info about them on Earlyword.com. Be sure to check out the Association of American Publishers’ events, including Library Family Feud, a fun program where librarians compete with authors. The AAP also does programs in association with LibraryReads, the group that runs the monthly list of library staff picks.
Pasadena Unified School District
Take time to actually talk to publisher reps at the booths—not just to grab ARCs but to ask them what they are excited about and what you should put on your to-look-for list. They love to talk books too, and Midwinter doesn’t have as many author signings, so they have time to engage in conversation.
Make time to go to the Children’s Notable Book discussions and YALSA’s Best Book discussions, even if it is only for an hour or two. I learn so much from the discussions—how to look at books in a new way.
If you are not on committees, make time to share a meal or connect with other librarians to talk about issues important to you and your school or public library. You don’t need an official session to have a valuable learning experience.
Bring protein bars, dried fruit, and nuts to carry with you. And don’t forget a reusable water bottle. Days can be long and sometimes finding food can be difficult—or you just don’t want to leave that fabulous exhibit hall to go stand in a line for food.
Even if you don’t have a business card, you can create some at a reasonable price. Include your Twitter handle, Instagram name, or other ways to find you via social media. If you have a blog, include that too.
Layer clothes—the exhibit hall tends to run warm while moving between buildings can be chilly.
If you plan on shipping ARCs home, do it before you leave the exhibit hall each day. It is hard to bring everything back to mail out. If you are going to take them home with you, pack a suitcase in another suitcase so you can split clothes and books between two bags on your way home. Sometimes the extra $25 luggage fee is cheaper than mailing packages home.
Mary Ann Scheuer
Emerson Elementary School
Visit the Notables discussions. I love hearing committee members sharing their thoughts on the best books of the year. These discussions are open to all.
Spend time at the exhibit floor learning about new books that will be released throughout the coming year. Come prepared with some way to keep track of all the new books you’ll learn about.
Get up early for the Youth Media Awards on Monday morning. It’s such an exciting experience, being in the room when these awards are announced, cheering with everyone as we celebrate the best books of the year.
Suzanna L. Panter
Instructional facilitator for teacher-librarians
Tacoma Public Schools
Pick up your registration as soon as you land. If you wait until the conference is in session you miss out on cool conference badge ribbons.
Know where your meeting is located. Many are in neighboring hotels and not at the actual convention center. You may need to build in significant travel time between meetings.
Pick out your lunching places ahead of time. I always use Yelp and try to find highly rated places just a few blocks away from the meetings. Many meetings break at the same time, so you want to be ready so that you are not waiting in long lunch lines.
Attend the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observation and Sunrise Celebration on Monday, January 23, from 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. The speakers are always uplifting and it is a great way to make sure that you are at the conference center for the ALA Youth Media Awards.
Most meetings are open to members. Use the scheduler app to find meetings with interesting topics and go to them. You may find you are passionate enough to volunteer.
Senior consultant at Velocity Firm and former Georgia Public Library service director of continuing education
Take business cards. Let’s be honest for a minute. Think about the last time someone gave you a business card. How many of those people did you actually contact? You can probably count those on one hand, if at all. I recommend that you get into the business of asking others for their cards instead. After chatting with your new acquaintance, jot down a few salient notes from the conversation so that you can have a targeted follow-up when you return. Pro tip: send your follow-up correspondence within your first two days back on the job.
Go to a meeting that is not in your wheelhouse. I used to see this all the time—people attending conferences and only going to the meetings and events for the divisions, roundtables, and interest groups of which they were members. Midwinter can be like speed dating. If you have ever thought about getting involved in the association in new ways, a great method for testing the waters is to go to an open meeting. All you have to do is sit back and be a fly on the wall. Watch the group dynamic. How many people are in attendance? Who are the conversation leaders? Are they discussing anything worthwhile? The best way to get to know a potential new partner is to watch them in action. Pro tip: actively follow the conversations and stay engaged. Someone might actually ask you for your thoughts. This is a prime opportunity to make a great first impression.
Hang out. Midwinter is for the diehards. You will find many of the most passionate, intelligent super library geeks at the meeting—many of whom are paying their own way to attend. That’s dedication for you. Even if you’re tired, introverted, socially awkward, or whatever, make it a point to make some new friends.
Here are a couple of tricks that have helped me along the way. If you find several people sitting in a group and the vibe feels right, casually stroll over and ask, “Hey, can I crash your party?” I have never been turned down using that line. You can also try working the corners of the room. Simply stroll casually, leisurely sipping your water or beverage of choice, and listen for conversations that sound interesting. When you find one, saunter over and say something along the lines of, “I think I heard you mention XYZ. Can I share what I think about that?”
Pro tip: bring your wildest library-service dreams or big, hairy audacious goals to Midwinter. You are surrounded by great minds that are usually open. Someone out there might be the next connection you need to move forward, or they might be able to offer you genuine insights.